By Ben Fellowes

Being a fine artist is an admirable and worthy pursuit. However, it’s very difficult to make a career of it unless you’re an exceptional artist who’s lucky enough to get gallery representation. In contrast, it’s not nearly as difficult to start your own art customization business with such a choice of print machinery and such a plethora of sites and web spaces like Etsy and Zazzle to showcase your creations.

Building a business focused on art and graphic customization has never been easier. From apparel to personal electronics, and from home décor to corporate environments, consumers are looking for ways to add logos, graphics, lettering, images and artwork to their lives, and you can be an artist who provides it. With today’s technology, you don’t have to be trained as an artist to specialize in this sought-after type of artistry and to put your art into print, onto products, or provide a unique customization service.

Below are five key steps for building an art and customization business.

1. Know your market and be your own market.

With the growing popularity of art and personalization, the marketplace is becoming more sophisticated and, in some places, more crowded. Study the market and consider the types of graphics and customization options people are most interested in.

At the same time, find your own voice and niche within the customization industry. Distinguish yourself and create your own marketplace by being the artist who specializes in dog portraits, refrigerator graphics, or personalized LEGO figures, but most importantly, find something unique to produce that makes you happy (as well as profitable).

2. Offer clients custom art they can visualize with templates and style options.

If you’re creating your own website, Etsy space or other shopfront, provide recommendations for your clients to help them narrow down the style of art or graphic they are looking to use. It’s a smart idea to offer an organized view of your designs that could even include an option to “design-your-own templates” for personalization with style categories such as “skull designs,” “patterns,” “abstract,” or other specific titles. Provide customers with the guidance they need to quickly and easily see and choose something that interests them.

You may also want to provide an option for clients to send in their own designs or original artwork. With modern design software and printing equipment, original work can be as easy to produce as designs you maintain or create in-house.

3. Invest in the right printing technology.

Whether you’re personalizing a mug or t-shirt, or reproducing a photograph or painting, you need to be able to offer a quality product that will make you stand out from typical online storefront. There are a ton of printing options out there for starting a business that include the following:

  • A Dye-sublimation set-up, requiring a dye-sublimation printer and heat press machine for all-types of apparel and décor customization, as well as printing onto skateboards, mugs and other dye-sublimation “product blanks.”
  • UV flatbed printers for quick, direct printing onto the widest-range of manufactured items, including iPads, smartphone covers, beer bottles, wall canvases and pretty much whatever you can get your hands on.
  • Inkjet printer/cutters are available in desktop and large-format sizes and are ideal for artists who are looking to print posters, wall art, and add heat transfer graphics to t-shirts and other apparel.

Do your research on the solution that fits your budget and your customization needs the best. Don’t go cheap on technology because this is the most important investment in an art customization business you’ll ever make. You need reliable technology that will not only last, but also create a sought after product that distinguishes your work. The solution you choose will determine what custom art you can create and what new art applications you are able to expand into.

4. Every artist needs to be a marketing hustler.

To state the obvious, this is a visual business. Be sure your website and marketing materials showcase your capabilities with rich images of the types of art and graphic customization options your art business can provide.

You also have to realize that your business doesn’t just exist online. When starting any business, you have to take advantage of every opportunity and hustle to achieve any kind of success. Get yourself seen and recognized wherever possible. If you can’t get into galleries, take it to the streets.

This is the age of the artwalk, the street fair and the pop-up gallery show, and there’s no better time to take to the streets armed with posters, prints, custom apparel and your other creations in a bid to get yourself noticed and to find leads and contacts. Do some local searches for artwalks, farmers markets, craft fairs, and even swap meets (rent a stall for a day and see how you do.)

Selling a poster or t-shirt to passersby might not make you bundles of cash but being a reclusive artist will get you nowhere.

5. Stay connected with clients by sharing their creations.

When you deliver the finished product, offer your clients a platform for sharing photos of their art and personalized projects by featuring their creations on your site and social media accounts. Use Instagram to share your art at every opportunity, Facebook all your successful interactions, tweet your best work and multiply the effect for both you and your client. This helps both in maintaining your connection to your clients and in continuing to advertise your art and customization capabilities.

You may not need to be the greatest living artist to succeed but you do need to be a smart businessperson who can see a great opportunity. If you’re considering starting your own art or graphics customization business, you can give yourself a fighting chance of success by starting with the right equipment, attitude and product ideas. Follow the steps above, and you may be well on your way to building a successful art business.